Nursing: Saluting the Evolution and Centuries of Heroism

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By Go Healthcare Staffing

May 8, 2023



Saluting the Evolution of Nursing and Centuries of Heroism

Go Healthcare Staffing provided this article.

Nursing is the nation’s largest healthcare profession, with more than four million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide and a projected increase of 200,000 per year through 2031. Thousands of RNs enjoy the freedom and flexibility as a travel nurse, a more recent phenomenon of the industry.  Nursing Pools, or professional staffing agencies, place nurses in temporary healthcare assignments where permanent staff cannot adequately serve patient admissions. This more contemporary just-in-time, on-demand approach to staffing has allowed hospitals to minimize labor gaps and improve the quality of care. The nursing profession has evolved over centuries to include formal training, regulations, certifications, and licensing. Nurses have also contributed groundbreaking inventions alongside new technology, both of which have played a pivotal role in advancing treatments, outcomes, and the caliber of care. This week we celebrate nurses across the country and appreciate the remarkable history instrumental in developing these healthcare heroes.   


The first National Nurses Week

The first National Nurses Week was observed in 1954, marking the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea.  During the war, many lives were lost due to infections, and these intimate encounters with injured soldiers spurred her views about cleanliness and patient care. She went on to author Notes on Nursing (published 1859), which provides a practical guide for hygiene, sanitation, fresh air, proper lighting, a good diet, warmth, and quietness in a hospital environment to promote patient recovery. In 1860, Nightingale leveraged her knowledge and opened the very first nursing school in London, paving the way for formal training and education in the field.


Nightingale is recognized as the founder of modern nursing because her tireless efforts to reform healthcare greatly influenced the quality of care throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The “Nightingale Principles” she promoted more than a century ago are still widely respected as a viable introduction to the field. In 1982, the United States Congress passed a joint resolution designating May 6 as National Recognition Day for Nurses, and President Regan went on to sign the proclamation. Today, National Nurses Day launches National Nurses Week, which concludes on May 12, honoring the birthdate of Florence Nightingale.

Clarissa Harlow Barton provided medical care to Civil War Soldiers in the 1800s

Also during the 1800s, nurse Clarissa Harlowe Barton provided medical care and supplies to Civil War soldiers serving on battlefields outside her home in Washington, DC. Her unwavering dedication earned her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield.” Post-war, Barton continued her humanitarian service by opening the Office of Missing Soldiers and reconnected more than 22,000 soldiers with their families. Later during her 1869 trip to Switzerland, Barton learned about the European Red Cross movement. This humanitarian effort provided neutral aid to those injured in combat. And in 1881, perhaps her most famous accolade, Barton founded the American Red Cross and then served as president for 23 years. Barton died in 1912, but her legacy lives on through a massive network of volunteers and staff at the Red Cross who respond every eight minutes to support those in crisis.

Linda Richards is recognized as the first professionally trained nurse in the United States.

In 1872, Richards was the first to enroll in the inaugural class of five students for a one-year program at the first United States nurse training school established by the New England Hospital for Women and Children. Her celebrated diploma is in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution.  After graduation, Richards worked as a night superintendent at the Bellevue Hospital Training School in New York, where she created the first system for charting and maintaining medical records for each patient. This system was adopted extensively throughout the United States and England. In 1976, Richards was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

Virginia Henderson was a major force throughout the 1900s.

She is credited for shaping nursing education through the application of her “Need Theory,” which stated the goal and focus of nursing is to enable the patient to achieve independence as quickly as possible. Henderson emphasizes basic human needs and, more specifically, how nurses can meet those needs. Noting that the nurse’s foremost duty was to the patient, not the doctor. As a nurse, theorist, and acclaimed author, Henderson transformed the field of nursing. She received more than a dozen honorary doctorate degrees from respected institutions, led an extensive teaching and practice career, and is recognized as one of the 51 Pioneer Nurses in Virginia as well as a member of the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame.

Mary Ezra Mahoney was the first African American woman to become a registered nurse.

Mary Ezra Mahoney was the first African American woman to become a registered nurse and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States. She was one of only four graduates (out of 42 candidates) from her class at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1879. Faced with relentless discrimination, Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908, pioneering the way for future African American nurses. At the age of 74, Mahoney was one of the first women to register to vote in Boston, propelling her nursing legacy to national fame.

Adda May Allen worked as a nurse at Columbia Hospital in Washington, D.C., in the 1940s. She noticed that babies tired easily when nursing from a bottle. She created a one-time-use disposable liner that helped reduce the effort needed by babies to drink. Whereas a traditional bottle created a partial vacuum and inverted the nipple, the plastic liner allowed the sides to close in as a baby drinks the milk. This invention helped ensure babies were not at risk of malnutrition due to exhaustion while feeding.

In 1968, registered nurse Anita Dorr invented the “crisis cart,” known famously today as the “crash cart.” 

Determined to resolve the dire situation she had witnessed far too many times, Dorr set out to reduce the time it took doctors and nurses to respond to cardiac arrest. She created a prototype cart in her basement that was stocked with the necessary equipment and provided easy access by medical staff. Today, the modern crash cart delivers the lifesaving defibrillator and resuscitation equipment quickly and conveniently to the patient’s bedside.

Luther Christman was the first male dean of a nursing school.

Luther Christman, a nurse, and educator, was a champion of racial and gender diversity in nursing. He was the first male dean of a nursing school and eventually founded the American Association for Men in Nursing (1974) to help men enter a field largely associated with women.


Christman helped create and implement the Rush Model of Nursing, which emphasizes the commingling of education and practice for nursing schools and transforms the way nurses navigate their future from coursework to career.

Throughout her career, nurse Rebecca Koszalinski has been particularly focused on improving outcomes for patients with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses who are speech vulnerable. Leveraging new technologies, she set out to transform treatment for those who do not have a voice. Koszalinski developed Speak for Myself®, an award-winning mobile app designed to help patients who are unable to communicate express their needs quickly and precisely. Feelings such as pain, fear, anxiety, the need for a restroom, and even loneliness are easily formulated using the app. Rebecca S. Koszalinski, Ph.D., BSN, MS, RN, CRRN, is an Associate Professor at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, FAU, Florida, where she continues her crusade to empower those with social challenges.

The industry has come so far since the first mentions of nursing during the Roman Empire around 300 AD. The practice evolved through the years as it aligned with church hospitals, battlefield injuries in times of war, and answered the call for midwives to help with childbirth. We see how the profession has progressed over centuries, with numerous individuals shaping modern nursing and reinforcing the sheer resiliency of practitioners. The twenty-first century has been especially important to the field of nursing as we come out of the coronavirus pandemic. During the height of its impact, travel nurses were essential to helping hospitals meet the unprecedented needs of infected patients. Travelers are accustomed to quickly filling staffing gaps and performing on day one in a new assignment. Together with the permanent staff, travelers provided the medical care and compassion needed during this incredibly difficult time.

The future outlook for nursing suggests a burgeoning need as our elder population continues to grow.

Ironically, nurses are also part of this aging segment, with a significant number expected to retire by 2030. The country needs a pipeline of students to fuel the expected 9% job growth for registered nurses (RNs) and 45% job growth for nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists between 2020 and 2030. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) A nursing career promises that medical innovation, government-mandated regulations, and technological advancements will combine to continuously change the look and feel of patient care. There is no doubt nurses have demonstrated over time their ability to adapt to change and crisis while keeping patient needs top priority.

Nurses and the nursing field will certainly endure and withstand the unpredictability of evolving healthcare needs. A new focus on mental health needs and resources for nurses, particularly those facing burnout, depression, and anxiety, is a welcomed addition to how the industry cares for its nurses. With this heightened awareness and investment in their well-being, we can hope that the longevity of careers will increase and patients will only see even better care and treatment.

“Heroism” is practically synonymous with nursing.

Centuries have shown where nurses sacrifice, conquer adversity, and fight for saving patients despite the risk to their own lives. There is no truer definition of a hero. As the country celebrates Nurses Week, we recognize the profound dedication and contribution nurses provide to our communities, hospitals, schools, and education systems. We salute the historical journey to modern nursing and pay tribute to the bright future ahead for these champions of healthcare.

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